Sitting amongst a collection of thousands of beads that date back as far as the 1700s is Olayami Dabls. He's the owner of Dabls MBAD African Bead Museum, a space at the corner of Grand River and West Grand Boulevard in Detroit that he created "for his community to understand the immense power of their African heritage."
Dabls has been collecting an assortment of things out of Africa for almost 20 years, ranging from beads, textiles, masks, sculptures, glass items, and rings. His bead museum started small in 1996 as a space to show materials representative of African people. The museum now consists of three townhouses and several outdoor installations. This weekend, Dabls and others will be celebrating an expansion consisting of a new gallery and community space, a project years in the making.
"The message that we're really trying to share is that we are all one," said Dabls. "That universal message is communicated through the various elements that are here and that have been used by various ancestral groups."
The space around the Bead Museum is an interesting and attention-grabbing one. Early on, Dabls began putting things out in the field behind the museum and in front of the I-96 expressway so that people driving by would be intrigued about what was happening in the neighborhood. Those three installations are known as Iron Teaching Rocks How to Rust, N’Kisi Iron House, and African Language Wall.
Both an attraction and educational space, Dabls chooses not to include artist statements next to the installations in order to allow visitors to determine their own messages and experiences.
“You don’t see captions of narratives, because there is an energy in things that people make, and there’s an energy definitely in things that people have made a long time ago," said Dabls.
If requested, Dabls gives guided walking tours with an strong emphasis on the four main elements that are incorporated into each piece: iron, wood, rocks, mirrors.
Thanks to funding and support from Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, Allied Media, and Patronicity, Dabls MBAD African Bead Museum will be expanding into its next phase as a civic and cultural leader.
This Saturday, June 22, there will be a kickoff event for the new gallery and community space, located two doors down from the bead museum. As part of a series of performances and events around the city co-curated by Cranbrook Art Museum, local artist Elizabeth Youngblood will also exhibit her piece "mat|ter." The event is free and will go from 3-6pm.
The new space represents phase one of expansion. Future planned improvements include an artist-in-residence and bead store renovations.